"What's all that yelling about?" asked Zombos, putting his book down. We were in the study on a beautifully foggy morning.
"It sounds like Praetorious," I said.
"Well, see what the blasted fool is yelling about now. If it's not ducks, it's something else."
I went down to the front door, opened it, and found the groundskeeper waiting for me. He tossed a small package into my hands.
"What's this, Praetorious?" I asked.
"Your damn fool something-or-other. Postman barely slowed down before he threw it over the fence. Hit me on the head, it did." The groundskeeper adjusted his large straw hat. "Now maybe I can trim those corpse plants around the back in peace. Damn things grow like weeds."
As he walked off, I tore open the package. There it was: my reviewer copy of Anchor Bay Entertainment's release of Cemetery Man!
The first thing I do before watching a new DVD is to look for a commentary or documentary, even if the film is new to me. I watch that first. I know, even Zombos thinks it rather odd, but I prefer to know as much as possible about a new film before I see it, and more about a film I've already seen, with the hope that I will learn about those little artistic touches that otherwise go unnoticed.
The liner notes for a DVD can also provide a wealth of valuable information regarding the provenance of a film. (Oh lord, I am watching too many Antiques Roadshow episodes!) Michael Felsher's liner notes for Anchor Bay's release of Cemetery Man are exemplary, and I learned much about this quirky, downright odd mix of humor, horror, sexual desire and necrophilia, gore and surrealism by director Michele Soavi and writer Gianni Romoli (from Tiziano Sclavi's novel, Dellamorte Dellamore).
Rupert Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, the forlorn, laconic caretaker of the Buffalora Cemetery, aided by a Curly-esque, dim-bulb — but frenetic — sort of individual called Gnaghi. One slight annoyance, or nightly chore — if you will — is that they have to keep the newly buried dead underground. For reasons never mentioned, the dead keep wanting to stay undead. (Mr. Soavi, as noted in the IMDb trivia for the film, explains that these "returners" are brought back to life by the mandragola roots that permeate the grounds of the cemetery. But that really doesn't tell us why, does it? Life is often like that: things happen, but we never really know why. We just go with the flow.)
So Francesco and Gnaghi are kept rather busy returning the dead to where they belong, in the ground. To assist with this endeavor, Francesco keeps a revolver, which he uses liberally to shoot the dead, well… dead again. To complicate matters, Francesco refuses to let the town authorities know what is happening in the cemetery for fear he may lose his job, along with having to fill out all that bureaucratic paperwork.
One aspect of all this bizarre supernatural activity that provides a bit of tension is that we never know, as Francesco and Gnaghi never know, which returners are going to take a few bites out of them, and which returners are just anxious to get back to their daily living routine (but really shouldn't, considering hygiene and all).
Francesco's nightlife, busy with shooting and reburying dead people, is more interesting than anything else he does during the day, and that is a sad commentary on his existentialistic existence. For a man whose favorite pastime is reading the phone book, and who observes one day that "At a certain point in life you realize you know more dead people then living," things are not going all that well. But how can he get out of his doldrums?
It is at this point that the voluptuous She enters his life — The woman, as played by Anna Falchi. He meets her during her husband's funeral. He is captivated by her beauty. How she could be married to such an old man surprises him, but she tells him that it was the sex. Her dead husband was indefatigable in bed. Hmmm… this is an Italian film, after all.
Francesco does what he can to get closer to her, but it is when he shows her his ossuary — interesting double-entendre here — that she begins to fall passionately in love with him. It is here that the use of billowing cloth throughout the film becomes most apparent as they embrace and kiss through it. Combined with the cinematography of long perspectives and close-ups, its appearance lends an impressionistic feel to the odd events surrounding Francesco.
The ossuary itself is a wonderfully eerie and claustrophobic chamber filled with skulls, bones, earth and huge mandragola roots, all intertwined and suffused in a brownish-gold light. In the documentary, it is explained that the set was constructed in layers, then put together to create the finished look of so many seemingly separate elements. It is quite a work of horrific art indeed.
As daylight fades and the night comes, blue ghost lights dance around Francesco and the woman. Soon, he and the woman are making love over her dead husband's grave. Her husband, of course, is not pleased, and attacks them, killing his wife before Francesco can stop him. This being Buffalora Cemetery, however, she soon returns in her billowing death shroud to make passionate love again with Francesco. A little decomposition doesn't get in the way of his ardor, but her biting a rather large chunk out of his neck does. He makes sure she will not return this time.
Adding insult to injury, a busload of scouts, the mayor's fun-loving daughter, and fun-loving but careless motorcyclists get mashed up on the roadway in a nasty accident and soon fill up the cemetery, providing both Francesco and Gnaghi with much work to keep the mangled returners sedentary. Gnaghi, who does have some personal issues, takes a fancy to the mayor's daughter's head, and he soon has it out of the grave and into his apartment. She also takes a fancy to Gnaghi, and soon the two are singing and chatting up a storm.
The film shifts from absurdity to surrealism as Francesco begins to see the woman he loves in other women. Oh, and the meeting he has with Death I suppose I should mention also. Death is rather miffed that he keeps sending the dead back to the grave, so Death tells him it would be better if he just killed the living instead.
Francesco's existentialist angst spirals out of control, and he finally seeks escape from it all. Packing a few belongings and Gnaghi into the family car, he heads out of the town, through a long tunnel, and into the outside world. Or does he? Has he found a resolution to his problems by trying to escape them?
I dare you to watch this film only once.